Real leadership credentials and schools as social networks

Great leadership is undoubtedly rare.  Establishing the best leadership credentials is a tricky task for any board.  Every culture has their preferences, and it would be foolish to suggest that the best perceived schools are bad credentials anywhere.  Schools act as social networks and schoolmates are, hopefully, lifelong friends.  However, there comes a point in time in one’s career where leadership credentials must be based on actions and results. In France, there is a lingering habit of announcing executive changes and promotions with the following formula (see the excerpt from the magazine Challenges below):

PERSON, AGE, graduate of a certain SCHOOL, has been nominated to a NEW POST…

Leadership credentials start with…

In the lastest edition of Challenges, the weekly business magazine in France, there is a column reserved for recent leadership changes.  To the left, you have the French text and I have added an English translation to the right.

French Leadership credentials, The Myndset Brand Strategy and Digital Marketing

Really, you would think that one’s credentials could be more appropriately cited.  Why must the age be cited so upfront?  Is your university degree still relevant?  I’d love to understand why this anachronistic way of writing up people continues in France?  Here is what it could look like in the US if I took a few rather emblematic figures.

US Leadership credentials, The Myndset Brand Strategy and Digital Marketing

US Leadership credentials, The Myndset Brand Strategy and Digital Marketing

The lasting role of schools in leadership credentials

In France, there is a perpetual fascination with the school that the executive attended some 30 years ago — as if that is what defines him/her.  Of course, schools are founding stones in our business life.  They remain the cornerstone of your social networks (to wit, many well known social networks began on university campuses).  That said, we are not made alone by the name of the school we attends. The other element that might hit you like a hammer: the importance of the “right” age.  Of the nine executives cited in Challenges, just one is over 52 years old.   The remainder are between 41 and 52.    When will start to see a few twenty-year old drop-outs among them, too?  [In the US sample from above, there is no woman.  This is unfortunate, but I also have struggled to find women drop-outs who have made the big time.  A comment unto itself?] Is it not time for a change in this approach in France?  {Click here if you agree, to tweet it out!}  Your reactions?

26 thoughts on “Real leadership credentials and schools as social networks

  1. France is the only country where I've been asked about my formal education in a job interview… I'm not even a college drop out, I never even began my college studies before finding a job….

  2. France is the only country where I've been asked about my formal education in a job interview… I'm not even a college drop out, I never even began my college studies before finding a job….

  3. Job interview in France tend to be stuck in a process that applies to 23 year old and to 53 year old, your school defines you more that any experience in the traditional environment, because your experience, promotions, access to knowledge, trainings, depends on your school, its reputation, and its circles of alumni. Life changes everything, but for some men (and a few women) ignoring it is a safe judgment. Even at partie among friends, I was asked which school, and even which primary school, just to check if I was sent to a private school. As to women in the workforce, 28% difference in salary explains as well the very few number at the top. They work, but decision making is mainly a male privilege. Michel Serres likes to say entering meetings with scientists, philosophers where women are absent " Bonjour les Talibans". Fabrice Grinda noticed the same phenomena in the digital world, in all countries.

  4. Job interview in France tend to be stuck in a process that applies to 23 year old and to 53 year old, your school defines you more that any experience in the traditional environment, because your experience, promotions, access to knowledge, trainings, depends on your school, its reputation, and its circles of alumni. Life changes everything, but for some men (and a few women) ignoring it is a safe judgment. Even at partie among friends, I was asked which school, and even which primary school, just to check if I was sent to a private school. As to women in the workforce, 28% difference in salary explains as well the very few number at the top. They work, but decision making is mainly a male privilege. Michel Serres likes to say entering meetings with scientists, philosophers where women are absent " Bonjour les Talibans". Fabrice Grinda noticed the same phenomena in the digital world, in all countries.

  5. @Yendi: I try to refrain from revealing my schools, even when asked. I certainly don't knock their value, their education, their reputation and the network I have thanks to them. Moreover, I still relish my school friends and my time at school. It's just that I refuse to believe that I am today made by the school I attended 30 years ago.

    Indeed, the digiterati could do with more women too!

  6. @Yendi: I try to refrain from revealing my schools, even when asked. I certainly don't knock their value, their education, their reputation and the network I have thanks to them. Moreover, I still relish my school friends and my time at school. It's just that I refuse to believe that I am today made by the school I attended 30 years ago.

    Indeed, the digiterati could do with more women too!

  7. Minter, you're not the first one to point something that many people outside France cannot understand. It's a little bit hard to explain in a few lines, but I'll try to.

    Every society is based on one basic value: trust. You trust your butcher, your teacher, the bus driver, the postman, etc. Just because you wouldn't be able to live your life without food, education, transport or services like mail. The same applies to business. But business history is different in France and in the US or Germany. Business has long been the privilege of a few people, small "castes": nobles mainly. Not wealthy persons, not self made fortune, that are considered as not noble enough. In the US, in the UK, in Netehrlands, business has been the privilege of … just busines people, sales person, etc.

    Nobles trusted each other: they were not enough to afford not to trust each other. But the french noblesse has disappeared throughout the 19th century. But as we say, "la nature a horreur du vide". There was a need for a replacement system. The "grandes ecoles" system is the replacement that the refnch society has adopted. Just because they trust each other. That's the reason why you see this information mentionned.

    Age is another question. Age refers to being friendly or unfriendly. In the same company, people approximately the same age can be friends or competitors; but a 10 years difference means competition. 20 years difference means you may have an heir.

    All this is explained in a short but brilliant book by Thomas Philippon, a french X who lives int the US and writes about economics and sociology.
    http://www.hervekabla.com/wordpress/le-capitalism

  8. Minter, you're not the first one to point something that many people outside France cannot understand. It's a little bit hard to explain in a few lines, but I'll try to.

    Every society is based on one basic value: trust. You trust your butcher, your teacher, the bus driver, the postman, etc. Just because you wouldn't be able to live your life without food, education, transport or services like mail. The same applies to business. But business history is different in France and in the US or Germany. Business has long been the privilege of a few people, small "castes": nobles mainly. Not wealthy persons, not self made fortune, that are considered as not noble enough. In the US, in the UK, in Netehrlands, business has been the privilege of … just busines people, sales person, etc.

    Nobles trusted each other: they were not enough to afford not to trust each other. But the french noblesse has disappeared throughout the 19th century. But as we say, "la nature a horreur du vide". There was a need for a replacement system. The "grandes ecoles" system is the replacement that the refnch society has adopted. Just because they trust each other. That's the reason why you see this information mentionned.

    Age is another question. Age refers to being friendly or unfriendly. In the same company, people approximately the same age can be friends or competitors; but a 10 years difference means competition. 20 years difference means you may have an heir.

    All this is explained in a short but brilliant book by Thomas Philippon, a french X who lives int the US and writes about economics and sociology.
    http://www.hervekabla.com/wordpress/le-capitalism

  9. Thanks for your post, Minter, on education and the management of careers in France. I agree with you about the different cultural perceptions of leadership.

    Inspite of everything, online, as you suggest in your conclusion, leadership credentials can be partly modified over time.
    This can happen thanks to the careful construction of a personal network (not just the number of connections, but the strength and proximity of those connections), one's value to that network (i.e. what the individual brings to the table) not based on who he/she was, but on what he/she brings in the present time, and that which he/she provides and proves via perseverance and coherence over time.

    Bye, Marie-Laure

  10. Thanks for your post, Minter, on education and the management of careers in France. I agree with you about the different cultural perceptions of leadership.

    Inspite of everything, online, as you suggest in your conclusion, leadership credentials can be partly modified over time.
    This can happen thanks to the careful construction of a personal network (not just the number of connections, but the strength and proximity of those connections), one's value to that network (i.e. what the individual brings to the table) not based on who he/she was, but on what he/she brings in the present time, and that which he/she provides and proves via perseverance and coherence over time.

    Bye, Marie-Laure

  11. Most interesting article. More globally, it is the entire educational training system (that emit diplomas) — managerial or not — that will be brushed aside by new technologies. I recently met the founder of Edunao (http://edunao.com/Europe_MOOC_Massive_Open_Online_Courses_Beta/Edunao.html) which is launching a certifying educational program via the web. The tended (protected) backyard of big name schools is over.

    Your example illustrates this revolution from another angle.

    France Business School, founded by P Molle (ex director of ESC Lyon) is an interesting case. More recruitment by contests, but only based on a project such as a recruitment interview; pragmatic classes in concert with business in order to help flourish top talent.

  12. Most interesting article. More globally, it is the entire educational training system (that emit diplomas) — managerial or not — that will be brushed aside by new technologies. I recently met the founder of Edunao (http://edunao.com/Europe_MOOC_Massive_Open_Online_Courses_Beta/Edunao.html) which is launching a certifying educational program via the web. The tended (protected) backyard of big name schools is over.

    Your example illustrates this revolution from another angle.

    France Business School, founded by P Molle (ex director of ESC Lyon) is an interesting case. More recruitment by contests, but only based on a project such as a recruitment interview; pragmatic classes in concert with business in order to help flourish top talent.

  13. Very interesting piece Minter ๐Ÿ™‚

    I do think that stating your education background – well you never really state your education background, it gets stated by others who mention – will only ever happen if you have studied at one of the top French Grandes Écoles.
    On the contrary, you will never meet a French person who will add to their names on a business card for instance :

    "Jean Machin, BA (Hons.), MSC, PhD"

    ๐Ÿ™‚

  14. Very interesting piece Minter ๐Ÿ™‚

    I do think that stating your education background – well you never really state your education background, it gets stated by others who mention – will only ever happen if you have studied at one of the top French Grandes Écoles.
    On the contrary, you will never meet a French person who will add to their names on a business card for instance :

    "Jean Machin, BA (Hons.), MSC, PhD"

    ๐Ÿ™‚

  15. In the world of large corporations, there is often a “risk management” dimension when hiring a senior executive. Pedigree and credentials will play a role in the minds of the decision makers and a good brand academically will play in your favor is it carries with it an implicit stamp of approval. This minimizes risk in the eyes of the employer, and therefore is favorable to the candidate. Academic credentials do not drive a recruitment decision, but they make the final decision more comfortable to the employer.

  16. In the world of large corporations, there is often a “risk management” dimension when hiring a senior executive. Pedigree and credentials will play a role in the minds of the decision makers and a good brand academically will play in your favor is it carries with it an implicit stamp of approval. This minimizes risk in the eyes of the employer, and therefore is favorable to the candidate. Academic credentials do not drive a recruitment decision, but they make the final decision more comfortable to the employer.

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